Is Laughter Good Medicine Or Is It Toxic?

At the Golden Globes Ricky Gervais’ wit was uber sarcastic and as Robert Downey Jr. put it, a bit sinister. Slinging the barbs at other people’s expense can be quite hurtful. Poking fun at an institution, a movie or book, a political statement, or even self-deprecating humor pass muster. However, when we mock someone’s sexual orientation, race/religion, old age, impediment, or recovery from addiction, we wound them to the core, twisting the sword in someone’s weakness – like a bully. By now we all know where bullying can lead.

The anatomy of humor – the choice is yours:
* I make others laugh in order to be well liked and feel good myself
* I make others laugh to lighten their load and cheer them up
* I laugh to generate happiness inside myself when I need a good laugh
* I laugh nervously when I feel frustrated or anxious
* I need to take a jab at others when I laugh

Gender differences regarding laughter:

Essentially, wromen prefer humor that involves stories, narratives and personal information. Women are more analytical regarding what makes them laugh; they use both hemispheres of the brain to process and react to the ideas and information in the funny story. Women also tend to be self-mocking to promote cohesiveness in the group without offending anyone. This is how women cope with the little emergencies that come their way andthey are able to lower blood pressure and reduce tension. For example, instead of experiencing an emotional melt down because of work and taking care of the children forgetting about dinner in the oven,  a woman might say, “Silly me, I burned dinner.” Note: Announcing the reality in a comic tone will prevent any criticism!

The opposite is true for men. Generally, men enjoy slapstick humor and favor the rehearsed joke. Also, they don’t like to make fun of themselves since from an evolutionary perspective, status is very important. Self-mocking humor would reduce male dominance and making them feel stressed. When men and women are polled, the majority of men want someone who will laugh at their jokes and the majority of women want someone who makes them laugh.

Based on individual style, gender and motivation, humor can either promote physical healing, create empowerment and release stress, or it can spiral down to dark humor to injure and shame.  While I always say in stress management, “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” I should add that we must take others more seriously before we sling a barb at their expense. You might ask yourself: What would Lassie do?"

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / truu
 

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About Debbie Mandel

I'm an author, stress management specialist, and my latest book is "Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life" (Wiley, Sept. 2008). Also, I host a weekly radio show and run an educational site where you can learn more about building immunity to feeling bad: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com

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